With defenseman Randy Jones set to return to the Flyers' lineup, possibly tomorrow night against the Islanders, after missing the first quarter of the season recovering from extensive hip surgery, the rumor is that former coach Ken Hitchcock is trying to get Jones to play in Columbus.

The Flyers are right up against the salary cap, and losing $2.75 million with another defenseman, Ryan Parent (shoulder injury), also ready to come back apparently gives the rumor legs. Even with newly acquired Matt Carle having missed the last three games with back spasms, the Flyers are about to have a logjam at the position.

In the emergency created by the injuries to Jones and Parent, the Flyers traded for Carle and Andrew Alberts, and kept 18-year-old Luca Sbisa instead of sending him to juniors. (I don't care what anyone says, if there were no injuries, Sbisa would be back in juniors right now.)

So there is room for rumors.

Well, Hitchcock's reaction was, "Where did you hear that?" And his answer was, "No. It's not true. But I hear that teams are calling."

To which Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren said simply, "No."

We'll see. The season is still just getting started and the rumors and second-guessing have been going full tilt. But that is the nature of professional sports, isn't it? There are entire Web sites made for reporting rumors based on "sources."

Some of it makes sense, much of it doesn't, some of it gets denied for business reasons, and some of it is owned up to.

Just yesterday I got a call from a reporter in Vancouver who asked if it were true that the Flyers were interested in Mats Sundin, to which I had to answer that I find it impossible to think that Holmgren hasn't at least looked into it, and I find it equally impossible to think that he would follow through on it.

Jones will return to the lineup, that much is for sure. But this is a business and anything can happen. I tend not to believe anyone's rumors on anything . . . Well, most things, until someone owns up to it.

Gagne scare

Speaking of believing stuff, I'm not convinced that there is not some level of concern about

Simon Gagne

leaving the game against New Jersey on Thursday night, feeling fatigued and dehydrated.

After missing most of last season with persistent concussion symptoms, any time he mysteriously disappears from a game, the alarms are going to go off. Concussions are not something anyone can say anything definitive about.

That has been the case forever and it is not going to change. Concussions have a nasty way of sometimes never going away and the symptoms can come back without a player being hit. Gagne and the team kept saying that he didn't get hit and therefore couldn't have a concussion.

Well, there are a number of retired players, in a lot of sports, who can say that the symptoms do come back on their own and sometimes never completely go away.

Keith Primeau is living proof of that. He was forced to retire because of it and he still experiences days when he knows he has suffered multiple concussions.

Gagne is having a great season. He played Saturday night against Carolina and had an assist. He is a great player and person and I am not alone in hoping that he does make it completely past last year. But he is right when he says that any time he is feeling fatigued or dehydrated the question is going to come up.

I am sick of Sean Avery

Even before

Sean Avery's

premeditated, vulgar and unacceptable comments in Calgary, I was sick of him. I can't stand the way a player who makes a living making a fool of himself and the game gets talked about as being valuable because he can help teams by getting under the skin of opposing players.

Avery has some talent, and I mean some. He is now playing on his fourth hockey team and controversy has followed his mouth his entire career.

We'll see what happens when his six-game suspension is up because Dallas will not take him back. He will be waived. So, is there another team out there that thinks it can control him and use him as both a player and a draw?

Here's hoping that there is not a general manager or team executive out there willing to take that chance.

Snap shots

The Flyers are 9-1-3 in their last 13 games, and scored their league-leading 11th shorthanded goal in the 2-1 overtime win Saturday in Carolina. They have moved to within two points of Pittsburgh for second place in the Atlantic Division and six behind the first-place Rangers. Still, they are having problems with turnovers and scoring even-strength. They have not scored a regulation, even-strength goal since

Mike Richards'

first-period goal in Toronto on Nov. 29. That's one in their last 10 goals.

The U.S. junior national team was named last week and among the forwards is Eric Tangradi, a Philadelphia native and former Junior Flyer . . . Scott Hartnell has a well-documented sense of humor, but it appears to be wearing thin when it comes to the glove toss. Joffrey Lupul threw a glove at Hartnell during shootout practice last week. Wonder how he feels about the Phantoms' marketing department coming up with the "Scott Hartnell Glove & Mitten Toss"? Fans are being asked to bring new gloves and mittens to the Phantoms' Dec. 14 game against Wilkes-Barre/Scranton to be donated to Operation Warm, which provides cold-weather protection for needy kids. *

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